10 Sailboat Essentials for a Better Life on the Water

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sailboat anchored on green water with blue sky behind

It’s crazy how your needs change when living on the water. Essentials for living on a sailboat will be different from the items you need on land.

Alternative living brings challenges. You’ll need specific things to solve those problems.

On a boat, everyday life revolves around resources and having quality sailboat essentials to withstand a marine environment. From everyday household items to kitchen tools and even what you wear – you’ll learn to be thoughtful of everything you bring into your tiny floating space. Keeping things small, easy to clean, and durable are all things to consider.

Here are ten things you need on a boat and how they make our daily lives onboard easier.

1. Stainless Steel Clothespins

BBL (before boat life) in my Colorado condo, I did not need a clothespin and hadn’t given one thought about them. Those were things my grandma used to dry laundry in the Stone Age.

clothespins on lifelines pinning towels and swimsuits

It turns out clothespins are essential to my new liveaboard life. (And having given up a lot of modern conveniences, I also have quite a lot of questions for my grandma now.)

Clothespins secure all my clothes, cleaning rags, dishcloths, and towels to the lifelines. They are the means of making wet things dry and decreasing the smell of mildew on the boat.

The Henry Berry & Dairy Clothespins are the king of clips. Seriously, I would’ve never thought I could praise a clothespin so highly. These also made our list of the Best Useful Gifts for Sailors.

Henry Berry & Dairy Extreme Color Clothespins - 20 Pack - Various Colors
$31.99 ($1.60 / Count)
  • Highest quality stainless steel clothespins (made in Italy)
  • Rustproof, fade proof, will not get hot in the sun
  • Special design allows these clothespins to not lose grip, even in strong winds
  • Available in various color options
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Top Qualities

  • Rustproof (no one wants rust stains on their clothes)
  • They hold items in high winds and won’t rot or weaken – you can trust these guys
  • They hold up over time – we used these to keep our helm cover in place for over six months until we got around to sewing it – they still look brand new
  • They come in a ton of colors if you want to coordinate with your color scheme – I mean, why not!

You can check out these clothespins and all the color options here.

2.  Handheld Vacuum

A good vacuum is essential for efficient cleaning on a boat. This is a crucial item we use multiple times a day.

A handheld vacuum and its attachments can help you clean things in all sorts of nooks on your boat. The foam flooring in our cockpit also stays clean for longer with a daily vacuum.

person vacuuming cockpit floor lining

We bought our Dyson V7 when we decided to buy an RV. It was priceless in the RV and has made an excellent boat vacuum (especially with a pet).

Top Qualities

  • This particular handheld vacuum is easy to clean
  • Includes a 12V DC charger, so no need to run the inverter
  • The battery life is adequate on the low setting (we rarely use the max setting since it does suck a lot of the battery and is not necessary)
  • Can be used alongside a hand pump to suck the air out of vacuum storage bags

Handheld Vacuum Options

The Dyson V7 Car+ Boat model pictured above is no longer available. We haven’t been able to find another vacuum with 12V charging capabilities (if you know of one, please drop it in the comments!)

For a similar vacuum, Shark’s handheld is highly recommended.

If you use rechargeable power tools, a more rugged option is the matching vacuum component. We have a few of Kobalt’s battery-powered devices, including their wet/dry shop vac which is relatively powerful and especially handy on a boat. RYOBI also offers a handheld vacuum if you already own their suite of tools.

If you are unfamiliar with these brands, their benefit is offering interchangeable lithium batteries that work with all your tools!

3.  E-Cloth

Cleaning on the boat can eat through paper towels. To eliminate the cost, storage, waste, and provisioning details that come with buying paper towels, we searched for a solution — a way to kick disposable paper towels to the curb.

person using a microfiber towel to clean a counter top

Enter E-Cloths. These are durable micro-fiber cloths that clean with only water and do a fantastic job at it. These also made our Zero Waste Swaps list.

E-Cloth Starter Pack, Premium Microfiber Cleaning Cloths, Assorted Colors, 5 Piece Set
  • Microfiber cloths that are perfect for cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, and more
  • Cleans with water only
  • 300 wash guarantee
  • 5-pack also includes a window polishing/cleaning cloth
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Top Qualities

  • Cleans with just water saving on cleaning supplies and paper towels

  • Made of quality microfiber that will last

  • Absorbent for soaking up water in various places (drains, refrigerators, countertops, etc.)

Check out this e-cloth set to get you started.

4.  Swim Leggings

I discovered the beauty of swim leggings (or tights) a few years before life aboard. Even then, I knew they would soon be a key ingredient to my boat uniform.

woman wearing swim leggings to hammock

They are comfy, practical, and keep the sun off your skin. They are pretty stylish as well. They are perfect for kayaking, SUP, snorkeling, or just going for a dip in the water. I also wear them underway and on shore excursions.

Coolibar UPF 50+ Women's Santa Cruz Swim Leggings - Sun Protective
  • Ideal for water activities such as swimming, surfing, snorkeling, waterskiing, and more
  • UPF 50+ sun protection, quick-dry fabric
  • Chlorine and saltwater resistent
  • High-rise fit
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Top Qualities

  • Limits use of sunscreen (saves money and your skin)
  • A good quality pair will be easy to clean and durable
  • Quick-dry like a bathing suit
  • Stylish and functional – win!

My Experience with Different Brands

I have tried Solbari leggings, which are UPF 50+, but I still love the more snug feel of Seafolly’s version. Unfortunately, they have been hard to find and are not UPF-rated, so I’m looking for other options. I plan to try Coolibar’s legging since the quality of their other products I have is top-notch.

These are the Coolibar swim leggings I have been eyeing. You might also like our tips on What to Wear Sailing.

5. Dock & Bay Towels and Hair Wrap

One of the first things you’ll learn when living on the sailboat is that you’ll need to up your towel game. Gone are the days of your average cotton towel.

Thankfully there are lots of choices out there. We particularly like our towels from Dock & Bay. They are great for beach days. They shake out quickly and dry in no time.

towel held out in the breeze over the water

Many of the towel patterns include white, so they will show stains if you aren’t careful.

I also live in their hair wraps. Perfect for wrapping up your strands after a swim or walking from the shower in the marina.

  • 4.4
  • $16.00
    • Great for home, travel, or the beach
    • Absorbent and quick dry head towel
    • Available in various colors
  • Absorbent, quick-dry, and sand resistant
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Great for travel, swimming, camping, and more
  • Great for home, travel, or the beach
  • Absorbent and quick dry head towel
  • Available in various colors
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Top Qualities

  • They work well to dry off (even though they look like they won’t)
  • Very quick to dry when hung on the lifelines
  • They fold up small and come with a storage bag for easy packing to take on a hike or to the beach

You can view the Dock & Bay towels here and hair wrap here.

6.  Scout Bins

If you aren’t familiar with Scout, they make nylon storage (among other things) that holds up great on a boat. They are easy to clean, they fold down flat if needed, and above all, they are very durable.

large storage bins on bed in cabin

The big bins are great. Unlike plastic containers, you can fold them up to fit through the cabin door (a problem I hadn’t even considered until it was an issue). Once through the door, you can set them up in the cabin to hold a massive amount of provisions.

  • Medium size, lidded storage bin
  • Bin and lid are collapsible
  • Bin is stackable
  • Holds 80lbs
  • Large size, lidded storage bin
  • Bin and lid are collapsible
  • Bin is stackable
  • Holds 90lbs
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Top Qualities

  • Foldable for storing, this is great for when you’re not doing big provisioning
  • Easy to clean and very durable – you can make the big ones into a seat or table
  • Stylish if you are looking for something to add a little character to your boat space

Check out Scout’s medium lidded bin here and the large bin one here. You might also like our tips on helpful boat storage ideas.

7.  Sport-a-Seats

When it comes to lounging, nothing is better than Sport-a-Seat. These are big in the boating community for a good reason.

They live up to their reputation and make a very regular appearance on our trampoline for sundowners.

two folding chairs setup on trampoline of catamaran

These adjustable seats can go anywhere, withstand the elements, and make any spot on (or off) the boat the perfect lounging area. I love that no matter where the view is, I can be comfortable when I plop it down.

Captain Ross (a decent size guy) loves that he has a mobile, adjustable seat with good support.

Top Qualities

  • Sturdy and durable – these seats are made for boats and the marine environment
  • Quality Sunbrella cover that repels water and dirt
  • Handle for easily moving around
  • You can lay it down flat and use it as a cushion in the cockpit

Check these out on the Sport-a-Seat site here.

8.  Breeze Boosters

A real godsend for liveaboard life.

We lived on the sailboat in Georgia in August, so we know hot. This sailboat cruising essential made all the difference. Sleeping at night at anchor was never a problem, thanks to the Breeze Booster.

breeze booster setup over sailboat hatch

These fold-up wind catchers secure to your hatch and force air down into the boat. They make sleeping and living on the boat much more comfortable during the summer months.

Top Qualities

  • Keeping air moving through the boat, especially in the summer heat
  • Holds up in the sun if treated with 303 Protectant
  • Easy setup and tear down

Check these out on the Breeze Booster site here.

NOTE: A wooden bar is placed inside the hatch to mount the Breeze Booster. Built-in sliding bug screens won’t work with the bar inserted. The company sells bug screens to fit the Boosters, but we like our sliding screen’s ease. We opted to remove the wooden bar and attach S hooks to the tension lines. We then connect those to D-rings/loops already mounted on the boat.

9.  Potted Herbs

Fresh herbs are an easy and fun way to boost flavors in the galley. Although not as “essential” as other items on this list. Being able to stretch my skills and be creative in the galley is important to my sanity, which is very essential!

potted herbs in cockpit of boat

Where fresh herbs shine is about 7-10 days after the last provisioning. When the fresh veggies are running dry, a little fresh herbs make a difference in a meal.

How to Use Herbs

  • Green onions are great for supplementing bought green onions (and easy to plant) – you can regrow green onions in a glass of water, but a pot will keep them growing for longer.
  • Rosemary and thyme are perfect for savory Italian, and a requirement for homemade veggie broth.
  • Mint and basil make delicious pesto for freezing – also great in curries and other Thai dishes. Basil is a star on homemade pizza.
  • Also, mint = mojitos

Top Qualities

  • Herbs add fresh flavor to elevate your dishes
  • You won’t need to buy and store fresh herbs in the fridge (just harvest what you need, when you need it)
  • Plants add character and a cozy vibe to your living space

10.  Magma Nesting Pots

Cooking is such a staple of boat life. I would almost say it’s a required hobby if you are going to be living on the hook.

So, what is essential to any good cook? Cookware. Yes, the vessel for your dish. But can you have cookware that is conveniently stored in a small space AND excellent quality?

You can! The Magma set is the perfect nesting cookware, and it’s also very high quality.

nesting pot set stacked and unstacked

The pots cook evenly and hold heat beautifully. If there’s one thing that brings me joy when cooking in my tiny galley, it’s these pots. These also made our Sailboat Galley Essentials list.

Top Qualities

  • They are flexible – usable on gas or induction and in the oven up to 500 degrees (we love our boat items to be multi-functional)
  • They are made with marine-grade stainless steel to withstand a harsh boat environment
  • They are nesting pots, so they take up minimal space in the galley

We purchased the 7-piece set, but I have slowly added the additional pieces in the Magma 10-piece set to round it out. You can also purchase cookware directly from Magma here.

Read more about why these pots are great for sailboats and the Best Nesting Pots for Small Spaces.

Finding Your Sailboat Essentials

When preparing to live on a boat, I thought I would need things I never use. Others I never dreamed of needing, and now use daily.

I encourage you to read as much as you can and weigh your new-found knowledge with what you know about your living habits. Also, look at the type of boat you have and how you plan to cruise.

Everyone’s essentials will vary because everyone lives on a boat a little differently. Please share some of your must-have items for comfortable living on a boat in the comments below.

Want more lists of boat gear for your liveaboard life?

View our guide for lists of essential sailboat gear, galley must-haves, what to wear sailing, and more.

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pin of ariel shot of catamaran sailing across blue, green water


  1. Just started cruising on a Camper Nicholson 35…space is the one thing a boat lacks versus say a house…Always looking for ways to make living aboard more fun.
    Thanks for the post

    1. Hi Shanna, how exciting to be getting started on your liveaboard adventure! Space is definitely a constant challenge on a boat. I hope you found some helpful tips in this post. Best of luck out there!

    1. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work on a round hatch, but I would definitely email Breeze Booster and double check with them!

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